A Brief Treatise on Iowa Wine, Part 2: Varieties

In part one of my series on Iowa Wine, I explored the very short history behind the Iowa wine industry. Today, I’ll go over a few of the more popular varieties in the area along with my personal experiences with each wine.

A * denotes facts and information gleaned from the Iowa State Review of Cold Climate Cultivars. All other information provided came from Royce Bennett of Collectively Iowa or from my own experience in the tasting.

St. Pepin (from http://www.eccevines.com)

St. Pepin

St. Pepin is a variety cultivated by Elmer Swenson in 1983 in Osceola, Wisconsin. A pistillate variety (meaning only the female parts of a fruit-bearing vine are fully developed), St. Pepin requires proximity to a developed vine to pollinate and bear fruit*. It makes a very light, delicate wine, and the lack of acidity makes the wine almost always cloying and underwhelming in an off-dry style.

The St. Pepin I tasted was made by Royce in his personal Vines and Wine line (NV). It was bone dry, light-bodied, with an attack primarily of minerals. It had a fairly impressive complexity with light tropical and stone fruit flavors. Though it started off tame, the flavors became richer and smoother towards the finish, which was longer than I expected. Definitely a good summer sipper.

Edelweiss

Edelweiss was developed in 1955 by Elmer Swenson in Osceola, Wisconsin, a hybrid of riparia (Frost Grape) and labrusca (Fox Grape) varieties*. Unlike traditional wine varieties, Eidelweiss must be harvested before it fully ripens. Ideally, it is harvested around 12º to 13º Brix. At full ripeness, roughly 18º Brix, it loses its wine descriptors and develops a flat foxy, grape-y flavor. It’s a difficult grape to maintain. With an early bud break and poor productivity from secondary buds, late frosts can very easily ruin a year’s crop*.

The Edelweiss I tasted was from Prairie Crossing Vineyards (NV). It had a massive attack of Granny Smith apple, crisp and pure. It was slightly off-dry, decently balanced, with a medium peach finish. It was fairly simple, but the flavor was clean.

Frontenac (from grapes.umn.edu)

Frontenac

Frontenac was developed by the University of Minnesota from 1978 to 1983 in Excelsior, Minnesota. It is a very vigorous, hardy vine that demands a lot of attention as it grows*. For years, it was harvest during its perceived ripeness peak and pressed to make an aggressively acidic, cherry-flavored wine. In recent years, experiments have revealed that letting the grape sit on the vine roughly a week past peak ripeness drastically softens the acidity, creating a richer, more nuanced experience.

The first Frontenac I tasted was a Vines and Wine label (NV). It was created in the traditional Frontenac style, with a bright cherry flavor, rather plummy, with a VERY high acidity and a short finish. It was in line with most Frontenacs I’ve tried, though I’m excited to see how the new “overripe” Frontenac wines will taste.

The second Frontenac I tasted was from Prairie Crossing (NV). It had a full flavor, again, a typical high acidity, though the character of this wine was softened by a medium level of old American oak, leaving it with a slightly medicinal flavor but nowhere near as harsh as most Frontenacs I’ve tasted. The flavor was simple, a brisk, tart, spicy cherry. This was definitely in the higher end of Iowa reds I’ve tasted.

St. Croix

St. Croix was developed by Elmer Swenson in 1981 in Osceola, Wisconsin. It’s an extremely thin-skinned grape, prone to leaking and very susceptible to disease and injury*. Grapes tend to have a moderate acidity and low Brix and tannins, giving it a natural affinity for palates attuned to Burgundy wines*. It’s a surprisingly hardy vine, recorded as surviving temperatures as low as -39º F and safe down to roughly -28º F, though snow cover significantly improves its chances of survival*.

I had the good fortune of trying two St. Croix varietal wines, and I’m convinced it will be the flagship red wine grape for the Iowa wine industry.

The first St. Croix I tried was from Royce’s Vines and Wine (NV). It had a wonderful potpourri bouquet, descriptors of cinnamon, nutmeg, dark floral, and blackberry. A light tobacco quality sat on the finish. Very rustic and aromatic, though with a surprisingly light body. It was like drinking the scent of a burning candle, and I mean that in the best way.

The second St. Croix I tried was the Wagon Trail Red from Prairie Crossing (NV). If you want to get me excited about the future of Iowa wine, this will do it. The presence of red fruit on this wine was so bare as to hardly even need mentioning. The experience was all violets and spices. There was oak, but it was skillfully introduced, tasting as a component of the spices than as a separate flavor. Like the other St. Croix, the descriptors were hefty and perfume-y, but the wine itself was light and delicate. An absolutely brilliant, unique experience.

LaCrosse (from reddogvineyards.com)

LaCrosse

LaCrosse was developed by Elmer Swenson in 1983 in Osceola, Wisconsin from a staggering array of species, including V. vinifera, V. labrusca, V. riparia, V. rupestris, and V. lincecumii*. As Royce told me, it’s a very foxy, finicky grape that invariably produces a wine with a “raunchy” aftertaste. It’s fairly frost resistant as its bud break is mid-season, and it can produce fruit from secondary buds.

The LaCrosse I tasted was from Row 13 Vineyards. It was a very light fruity, floral affair, with apricot and citrus flavors. This wine did not have that peculiar aftertaste, and Royce told me it was because LaCrosse tends to lose that flavor in blends. To produce a varietal wine without that flavor, the winemaker blended the fermented juice with just a touch of unfermented juice from the same grapes. The science behind this baffles me, but the finish was clean and fruity.

Concluding Thoughts

Quick thoughts?

Tannins are hard to come by in Iowa. You’ll stub your toe on a thousand tractors before you find a big red here. There’s just not enough sunshine and heat to develop these wines.

You’ll have to dig in to find dry wines. The local palate, raised on sweet, skunky German-style fruit wines, guarantees that most local wines, even the reds, will be made off-dry / semi-sweet. These wines are so delicate that the sugar utterly destroys the quality of the wine. The good news is more and more winemakers are attempting to get the most out of their grapes, and the results are encouraging.

Expect the unexpected. Not to sound dramatic, of course, but you’re not going to find a Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Noir, or Sauvignon Blanc here. If you do, it’s imported juice. So don’t fret if you don’t recognize any of the grapes on the tasting sheet… they’re still good wines, and there’s still something for most palates there.

The future of Iowa wine depends on newer, more suitable varieties that will be cultivated in the area, though the current industry has been built on traditional grapes. Royce has seen this dichotomy in the preference for the Alsatian Marechal Foch, a decent grape in its own right but one with very limited potential (as in, you’ll live a thousand years before you see a wine scored 90 points from this grape in this area) over its underused, richer sibling Leon Millot (Lay-own Mee-yoh). As winemakers figure out the challenges to growing old varieties and the science behind the new ones, the industry will begin to receive notice from the coastal wine drinkers. For now, the limits of total production, suitable varieties, and overall quality make Iowa wine an unpolished gem in the Midwestern wine industry.

A Brief Treatise on Iowa Wine, Part 1: History

Recently, I got the opportunity to participate in a wine conference in Iowa. While the conference spanned roughly two full days, I planned an extra day to explore the wine country nestled in the sprawling agrarian region around Cedar Rapids. Roughly a dozen wineries are within 30 minutes of the city, and I had the good fortune to visit half of them. By far the most productive visit I had, though, was to a winery and event center named Collectively Iowa.

Collectively Iowa, winery, tasting bar and event center in the Amana Colonies

While I had the opportunity to try some of the best fruit wines I’ve ever had during my many stops, remnants of the influence of German winemaking in the area, the real surprise to me was the level of sophistication in winemaking in the area. Royce Bennett, the winemaker for Vines and Wine and proprietor of Collectively Iowa, gave me the full scope of the incredible growth of the wine industry in the state.

A mere eight years ago, there were 2 grape wineries and 40 acres of grapevines in Iowa. Today, there are 87 wineries and almost 1500 acres of land under vine, an astonishing growth rate of 3750% in less than a decade. At the Iowa Wine Growers Association Conference, I must have met at least another 10 to 15 viticulturists who were either laying bricks on new wineries or beginning fermentation on their first vintage. This state is taking off.

Elmer Swenson

Elmer Swenson

Royce also gave me a run-down of popular varieties in the area, what grows where, and where they came from. Iowa owes most of its viable vines to Elmer Swenson, a self-educated grape grower from Wisconsin. From age 8, Swenson had been cross-breeding French hybrids with American native vines, and he dedicated over 60 years of his life to creating cold-climate varieties. With the dozens of grape varieties he bred, he only patented five, and he sent clippings to just about anyone who wanted them in order to help develop the Midwestern wine industry. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 91, and the University of Minnesota, an early partner in his efforts, continues to develop varieties according to his work.

Over 50% of the vines currently planted in Iowa can be traced directly to vines cultivated by Elmer Swenson.

Other grapes popular in Iowa are French hybrids, though viable only in Southern Iowa. The New-York-centric varieties developed by Cornell are also grown in southern Iowa, where the temperature rarely drops below -25ºF. Only the cold-climate grapes developed by Minnesota and Swenson are viable in central and northern Iowa.

The Iowa wine industry as it stands today owes most of its success to Iowa State University and especially Dr. Murli Dhrmadhikari, a viticulturist who joined the university’s staff in 2005. Iowa State, through its Enology and Viticulture outreach program, has assisted burgeoning wineries and vineyards with clearing hurdles to early industry development, from protecting grapevines from deadly corn pesticides to winemaking basics and essentials.

Royce Bennett, behind his wine bar at Collectively Iowa

For an exhaustive list of Iowa-viable grapes researched by Iowa State University, Royce pointed me to their Review of Cold-Climate Cultivars, and believe me, you could spend hours perusing it. In my next post, I’ll highlight the most popular varieties with a summary and tasting notes from varietal wines I tried during my tour.

I especially want to thank Royce for all of his help on this trip. Even before he’d met me in person, he spent over a half hour on the phone describing the history and popular varieties in the state to me, and he spent almost 2 hours of his time conducting an extensive tasting for my benefit. I’ll highlight more on the Amana Colonies in the future, and I absolutely recommend a vacation there to anyone near Iowa. It’s a gorgeous, tight-knit community with 3 wineries, 2 smokehouses, and a brewery within 3 blocks. Hallelujah.

Going Against the Grape: Wine-Based Mixed Drinks

What we are about to embark upon will surely offend the sensibilities of the more fastidious wine critics in the world. We are going to taint the purity of fine wine with the basest of mixers and bourgeois liquors. We are going to desecrate months of hard work and careful planning by treating a glass of wine like a shot of tequila. Is everyone ready?

The Wines

2008 Traza RiojaThe two victims of our experimentations are the 2008 Traza Gra2, a 100% Graciano Rioja, and the 2009 Walnut Block Wines Sauvignon Blanc.

The Traza Gra2, crafted by David Sampredo of the collective Vinos Sin-Ley (translated as “wines without laws”), is a rich, perfumey red with a very deep, complex purplish-red color. Red and dark fruits accompanied by just a touch of spice accent a relatively full body. Good balance, bone-dry, and velvety tannins make it a good, pleasant Rioja experience for around $15.

The Walnut Block Wines Sauvignon Blanc is a bright, juicy, prototypical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Rich grapefruit, lime zest, and very prominent herbal undertones match very well with just a touch of sweetness and a ripe acidity. The color is striking, with an almost colorless silver luminosity, just a tinge of greenish-gold. It’s $11 and worth every penny.

Both wines were purchased from Hillsborough Wine Company in Hillsborough, NC.

Now that we’re acquainted with the victims, let’s look at the mixed drinks we will be attempting to create in the mad mixologist’s lair:

Kalimotxo

The first drink we tried was the Kalimotxo (pronounced Cah-lee-moh-cho), which is a fairly simple concoction with Basque origins. The recipe is as follows:

3 parts red wine

1 part Coca-Cola

Pour the red wine over a glass of ice, then add the Coca-Cola. Stir. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge. Simple.

We tried this in the tasting with the Rioja, but there was just something slightly off about the flavor. After a second attempt at making this cocktail with a 2007 Mr. Black’s Concoction Shiraz, I came to the conclusion that a stronger, fuller, juicier wine makes for a more delicious cocktail, and at 15.9% with bountiful dark fruits, Mr. Black’s Concoction was exactly what I wanted. Avoid lighter reds and avoid adding too much cola to keep this drink in check. The lighter the red wine you use, the less cola you should add to compensate for the more delicate flavors. Too much fizz, and the drink will devolve into a bitter experience.

White Wine Mai-Tai

While not a true Mai-Tai (a Mai-Tai is neither pink in color nor this simple to create), this drink is nevertheless a delicious and surprisingly potent addition to your bartending repertoire. Here’s the recipe:

1 part clear rum

1 part white wine

splash of grenadine

Mix all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Pour over a glass full of ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge or a maraschino cherry.

Because the rum flavor is so heavily featured in this drink, you need to splurge and go one step above Bacardi to get the full experience. For the white wine, go with something full, dry and juicy, something along the lines of a Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, or Picpoul de Pinet would work well here. If you go off-dry, the sweetness combined with the grenadine will overwhelm the delicate wine flavors in the drink and turn it into a syrupy mess.

Take it easy with this one. Because you’re mixing alcohol with more alcohol, it’s going to be a lot more potent than most mixed drinks, up near 30% alcohol, and you won’t hardly be able to taste it. One or two of these will be good for an afternoon on the beach.

A Pleasant Surprise

While preparing for this experiment, I of course paid a visit to the local ABC store. There, I happened upon one of the biggest surprises of my alcohol-consuming life. The clerk saw me browsing the rum section and asked me if I needed any help. When I told him about my plans for the tasting, he handed me this bottle, saying that it was by far the best rum in the shop. There were 2 or 3 rums at a higher price point, but I took him at his word on it.

It’s lucky that I’m such a trusting person because this truly was one of the best rums I have tasted. This is a rum that’s built for sipping. I almost felt guilty blending it with the wine because of how pure and clean it tasted. Flavors of sugarcane, vanilla, banana, and molasses. It’s perfectly suited to tropical mixed drinks, especially if you’re looking to go heavy on the rum. I wouldn’t waste this rum on mixing with cola. Leave that to the Bacardis of the world.

I paid about $40 for this rum, and it’s freely available online at that price if you’d like to give it a try. For another look at it, hop on over to the Drinkhacker review. I don’t have much experience with liquor tasting, and a more trained palate can provide a better review than mine.

The Conclusion

What I learned from this experiment is that, despite the thirst for purity in the wine industry, there are other alternatives for wine use outside of cooking. Depending on the descriptors of a wine, it could make a pretty tasty cocktail. Now I turn to you, dear readers, for help. I’ve only scratched the surface of mixing wine. Have any of you given these a try? What other delicious concoctions have you heard of or produced with your favorite wine? My weekend is in your hands.

Fantasy Wine League

Welcome, potential participants, to the fact sheet for the Triangle Fantasy Wine League! After a long brainstorming session with Gwynne Murphy, we’ve come up with the framework for the league:

Time Frame

We’ll do a 14 week league, meeting every other week for 7 meetings total. There are two byes built into the schedule, very flexible, so you can miss two meetings and still fully qualify for the league prizes. You can even show up for the tasting without bringing a wine, so long as you meet your requirements in the other weeks.

Scoring

Everyone who participates in the league will be a part of the tastings. Each week, each person who attends will bring a bottle of wine to be judged by the other participants.

We’ll be treating the wines as players on a football team, with different categories counting as the “stats” for the players.

We will be scoring the wines on a scale from 1 to 5 in the following categories:

Appearance: is the wine cloudy and dull or clear and vibrant?

Aroma: Is the nose pleasant, complex, and harmonious or off-putting, off-balance, or weak?

Body: Does the wine have texture and weight, or is it lifeless or watery?

Taste: Does the wine have a rich array of flavors, and is it balanced, or is it simplistic and unpleasant? Does the alcohol, tannins, acidity, or sugar stand out too much?

Finish: Does the flavor persist long after the wine hits your tongue, or does it vanish abruptly?

I will take the average of all scores for all categories and assign those to the wines. If you collect scores for more than 5 wines, your top 5 will be used. Each week, I’ll update the scores for each player as well as list each wine as reviewed by the participants. We might end up with a *very* lengthy consumer’s guide once it’s all said and done!

The winner will be the person whose top 5 averages combined are the highest. I’m working on a tiebreaker system, so a clear-cut winner should always be possible.

The Positions:

We will have 7 “positions,” based on real football positions, and each one will get its own tasting day. It’s in your best interest to submit a wine that fits the criteria for the week, otherwise it might clash with the other wines and be detrimentally scored. You only have to have 5 positions filled to qualify for the prize. Here are the positions:

Quarterback: The face of the franchise. The most skilled player on the field. Many different styles and skill sets, but a complexity unmatched by anyone else on the field. Big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel varietal wines or GSM, Bordeaux, or Cote-Rotie blends lead the league in accolades, fame, and stat accumulation. Fail to draft a good quarterback, and your offense is stagnant.

Running Back: Stalwart players that, even if they don’t reach the same level of impact or fame as the quarterback, still can serve the role as the centerpiece of an offense. Noble reds Pinot Noir and Merlot are exemplary of this position, though up-and-coming varietals like Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese or blends like Rioja and Burgundy are also worthy draft choices here.

Wide Receiver: A wide variety of styles and physiques. Your wide receiver can be a gangly, speedy down-field threat or a stocky, tank-like possession option. Noble whites like Chardonnay and Riesling or sleeper choices Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, and Pinot Grigio offer the versatility of minerality, floral character, and many different kinds of fruits that might help you win big.

Tight End: A hybrid of bruising, blocking strength and nimble pass-catching ability. These white wines are a bit more aggressive than the wide receiver, built to take on more punishing foods. Bigger, more acidic whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, and Picpoul de Pinet are a shock for the palate.

Defensive Back: Built like receivers with the mentality of a linebacker, the Rosé takes the best of both worlds. Any red that’s worth its salt, when prepared with minimal skin contact, creates a unique experience with just a bit more vigor than your standard white wine.

Defensive End: No-nonsense, bruising, in-your-face, dessert wines pack a lot of flavor and character into a compact frame. Moscato, ice wine, Tokaji, Port, and off-dry and late-harvest wines all do one job and do it well.

Linebacker: The ultimate combination of strength and speed, they bring a variety of talents with flash and stopping power. Sparkling wines, Champagne, Cava, Spumante, Asti, Vinho Verde, etc, will burst into the play with vigor.

The Prize:

The prize pool is simple: everyone kicks in a bottle of wine. Depending on how many participate, either the winner takes all, or we’ll split the award among first, second, and possibly third place. This decision will be made once the league is together.

The Schedule:

Before I can set the schedule, I need to find out when people are available. Please fill out the following poll and let me know which days you are available. I’ll leave the poll open for a week, with the intent to start the league before the end of November. The sooner I get an idea of everyone’s availability, the sooner I can get this league off the ground.

Anything Else?

Yeah, if you want to claim your clever fantasy team name, do so in the comments below. If you’ve never named a fantasy team before, or you need some inspiration, these guys have a few suggestions for you. At the very least, let me know if you’re interested, so I can start planning. Questions? Suggestions? Comment, message me, email me… you know how to find me.

Thanks for your interest, guys! Let’s start a new craze!

Josh

The John Lennon Mini-Memorial Wine Tasting

John Lennon Memorial Wine Tasting

This week, we had two Reds from the Iberian peninsula; a varietal Garnacha from Spain and a red blend from Portugal. It really had no relation to our tasting theme, which was a celebration of John Lennon, who would have been 70 years old that day. It was more the idea to bring in wines a little bit different to honor one of the men responsible for much of today’s modern music. Whether intentionally or not, we succeeded, as these reds were just off-kilter enough to give everyone’s palate a nice little shock.

We toasted to his memory and his legacy while a Wings concert cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (yes, written by Harrison, we know, the mood was what’s important) crescendoed in the background.

Xiloca GarnachaThe fCabriz Colheita Seleccionadairst wine, 2008 Xiloca Garnacha by Vinae Mureri, was a deep, dark red wine that embodied all the characteristics of Ribera del Jiloca, the designation for Vino de la Terra from the Jiloca valley. Bold raspberry on the nose was tempered by a subtle earthiness and notes of tea and cinnamon.  The flavors were bright and pure, with an unexpected, but pleasant, mineral component on the attack. Raspberry was the primary flavor, though there were also earthy and woody qualities that gave way to a peppery finish. a The alcohol, at 14%, was subdued, and the tannins were supple. It paired phenomenally well with mild milano salami and parmesan cheese. For a sub $15 wine, this was a good one.

The second wine, 2008 Colheita Seleccionada by Quinta de Cabriz, hails from the Beiras in Portugal. It’s comprised of three grapes, Alfrocheiro, Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo), and Touriga-Nacional. The latter two are well known in the world, though Tempranillo isn’t as common in Portugal as Touriga. Alfrocheiro, however, is an interesting and fairly obscure grape. It was even more obscure before the Phylloxera pest devastated European vines, and it was brought in to some vineyards replace more susceptible varieties*. The result is a red blend which combines three fairly subdued varieties into an understated wine.

The appearance is a deep red with a slight peach tint at the edge. The aroma is jammy and sweet, not cloying, but it is a little off, with an earthy, spicy kind of cherry aroma. The flavor is very smooth, with astringent tannins on the finish and a fairly bland black cherry flavor. It’s fruity and dirty at the same time, with a sweet/sour characteristic almost like a Sweetart. It’s definitely got too much sweetness for such a subtle structure, and the flavors are a bit overwhelmed by it. I would say it’s drinkable at under $10, but it’s definitely not a leading option if you’re trying to impress someone who understands red wines.

All in all, this tasting was not one of the best. Though the Garnacha was a pleasant sipper, the Colheita Seleccionada was an underwhelming and bland experience. I had higher hopes for trying a new grape, but at the very least, I can add it to the list for the The Wine Century Club, an in the end, isn’t that what really matters? (no, no it isn’t)

*from Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand’s Grapes & Wines p. 35

Another Gruner and a Neat Little Bottle Accessory

Usually, when we have our office tastings, we get the entire group together for at least a couple wines. We only had 5 people left in the office this past Friday, late afternoon, making finishing two bottles and then negotiating rush hour traffic a baaad idea. Thus, we decided to make this tasting a good one and go with a single recommended selection from Wine Authorities. Coincidentally, it turned out to be from the same producer of one of my favorite frizzanté Rosés, one which I plan on writing up soon.

The wine we tasted this time was a 2009 Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner, a variety that, although still relatively unknown to wine consumers in the United States, is nevertheless making headway as a contender to Sauvignon Blanc as a go-to “wine with a bite.” Though capable of producing a variety of styles, including sparkling, Gruner Veltliner generally takes a food-friendly high-acidity, medium-to-full-body character. Its redolent notes and full flavor make it suitable for exotic, spicy cuisine such as curry and sushi.

If you’re tired of the grapefruit-and-cat-pee nature of Sauvignon Blanc, maybe it’s time to give Gruner Veltliner a try.

As for ours?

Weingut Michlits Gruner Veltliner 2009

The nose was surprisingly floral, the scent bright and thick. There were multiple fruit overtones, with green apple, lemon, and apricot all rather stark.  With these spring-like wilderness scents, it all came together in a nose that reminded me a lot of a pond or river out in a field, the perfume-y fruits and flowers blending with a palpable minerality.

The flavors were similarly pleasant, with light floral and citrus characteristics and a prime green apple taste that persisted from attack to finish. The finish itself, decently long, had a smoky characteristic suggested by the mineral-like scent on the nose but in a different realm of flavor. We agreed that it was very active, well, balanced, almost effervescent, and very full. Unlike past wines, it was unanimously revered, which is great for a group such as ours with varied tastes in wine.

Drop Stop Pourer in PackageWe also put to test the Drop Stop pourer, a unique accessory in that its construction allows for a really inexpensive way to get a paper-thin pouring surface. Anyone who’s poured from a wine bottle knows that the thick lip necessary from the glass causes wine to dribble down the side of the bottle at the end of the pour. The basic rule is the thinner the edge, the more precise the cut-off for the pour.

Anyway, the way it works is you roll up the mylar disc, stick it about halfway into the bottle, and let it expand. The mylar opens to form a tight seal, and because the edge is so thin, the wine can’t get any force behind it to push it out or leak around it, something that has happened to me with traditional acrylic or rubberized pourers. It worked like a charm; not a drop of wine spilled after 5 pours. It’s easier to clean than solid pourers as well, as it unfolds into a flat plane that’s easily rinsed and wiped rather than a narrow tube that you can barely get a Q-tip through.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the aesthetic appeal, aerating function, and durability of my Menu Pourer Vignon, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive, reusable pourer with minimal upkeep, the Drop Stop is a viable solution.

What do you think? Would you be okay with pouring from something that looked as basic as this at a party, or would you want something with the flair and functionality of a Menu pourer?

Drop Stop in Bottle

An Office Celebration: We Drank Wine. Surprised?

This week was a bit of a treat. Instead of the usual one-or-two wines, our tasting included three varied wines: a Prosecco, a Port-style Zinfandel, and an Alsatian Riesling. What was the occasion? Does one need an occasion to celebrate life?

Port Sippers Wine Glass

Luna Argenta ProseccoWe started with the non-vintage Luna Argenta Prosecco, a prime example of its style. The color was a very pale straw, and the carbonation appeared to be fine if a bit aggressive. The nose was very aromatic, detectable from a yard away directly after its pour. Apple, citrus, and a light floral scent all cobbled together in a fairly standard bubbly scent. The flavors were a bit different, with pineapple, a bitter berry, and pear all making appearances. It was dry, and the flavor was weak when compared to the aroma. Still, not a disappointing sparkling, especially for one that usually sells for just over $10. This was the clear favorite in the tasting, as the bottle was drained soon after the tasting was over. Compare that to the last wine, which, among the nine of us usually eager wine-consumers, had a half of a bottle leftover that we used to clean our drains.

Evenus Port-Style ZinfandelA bit of a surprise was the 2006 Evenus Port-style Zinfandel. Hailing from Paso Robles in California for just under $10 at Trader Joe’s, this wine was a big change from the Prosecco. We decided to give our Porto Sippers a workout for this one, as we hadn’t had the opportunity in our tastings thus far. The Port sippers will direct and splash Port wine directly onto your tongue, resulting in a unique tasting experience that, admittedly, we hadn’t tried in quite a while. This certainly disappoint, highlighting the flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and baking spices in this wine. We also tried it with dark chocolate, and it paired sublimely.

2004 Kuentz Bas RieslingWe finished with the 2004 Kuentz Bas Alsatian Riesling.  The Riesling was by far (and surprisingly) the worst of the group. The aroma was that of spiced fruit and dark floral, but it seemed slightly spoiled. The flavor wasn’t much better, with orchard fruit and citrus tempered by a floral flavor, though the whole experience was marred by some rotten-sweet characteristic. The texture was lifeless, lame, and the finish was disappointingly short. I wrote and underlined FLACCID on the sheet. The balance was just awful, with no acid activity whatsoever. As the most anticipated wine in our line up, it was a complete let-down.

It was so bad that Ashley decided to see if she could improve its characteristics by drinking it from a coffee mug. Not surprisingly, her plot was foiled.

Wine from a Coffee Mug

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